Repeatedly, I ask myself, “what is Nairi?” Each and every time when I eat my heart out to find the answer, someone, a stranger, a ghost from the past appears and asks the wicked question, “Can’t you materialize, to certainly imagine and see the land of Nairi? To make it worldly and tangible, at least in the everyday lives of the people. Maybe there is no Nairi: it is a lie. Maybe it is a memory, a fiction, a myth.”
I don’t know the answers. I only know that it existed and still exists; it is in my old-blood. I feel its existence but when I want to visualize Nairi, it disappears like a chimera…
Dear reader, I will leave it to you. Find Nairi.
Translated by Shushi
An American scientist named Mark Leary discovered that the need to belong is as important as satisfying the survival needs. Another scientist Benedict Anderson found out that a nation or national identity is a non-material and imaginary cultural phenomenon.
I consider myself an Armenian. If my beloved “imagined community” and I occupy the territory of Armenia, logically the imagined Armenian community should satisfy my need to belong. But it does not. Things are easy for war veterans; they visualize both their country and the community. And the government’s supporters belong to Nikol’s Hayastan. Even the extremist Dashnaktsakans, that have a nationalistic ideology, are in relatively tolerable condition. At least they know that the liberation of historical lands will satisfy their belongingness. Sometimes I envy these people. The only thing that I certainly know is that I belong to Nairi. But what is my Nairi? Is it merely Hayastan, a small, corrupted country? No! But where is it? What is it? To find Nairi, maybe I should change my perception of Hayastan, or try to find her outside the borders of Armenia.
Dear Charents, I will start my search for Nairi. I should discover to what I belong to. I should discover myself.
My first attempt: Nairi within the borders of Armenia.
In the past few centuries, Syuniq and Artsakh were the most historically important parts of Eastern Armenia. So maybe Nairi is hidden somewhere there in LernaHayastan. The place where the brave rebels fought for independence for centuries.
I should leave everything in Yerevan in order to go and check.
The only possible road to Syuniq is the Yerevan-Goris road. Initially, the dilapidated road from Yerevan to Goris was included in the highway investment project, which would connect northern and southern parts of Armenia. But, thanks to the corruption and the oligarchy, we will never know what it feels like to drive through a wonderful nature on smooth concrete roads. I began to contemplate: is it possible for the Nairian roads to have so many imperfections and failures? No, Nairi should not be humbling.
After entering Syuniq I stopped paying attention to road failures. The marshrutka stopped and my friend and I walked onto the main road and started hitchhiking for the first time in our lives. Many drivers, especially young men would slow down, stare at us and continue on with their path.
If we compose one Nairian unit, equally important for the whole, and if the Nairian men respect women, why should they make us feel embarrassed? It is impossible in Nairi. There I will be able to freely walk, without anyone disturbing me.
We gathered our courage and stuck out our thumbs. The first car, a Haypost messenger, stopped. For thirty minutes, the driver was sharing his personal stories about traveling all the time, and knowing every corner of Hayastan. I did not ask him about Nairi. I was confident that Nairian people are like him – kind and loving. The man seemed to be a transparent bond between Nairi and me. I was getting closer to it. He took us to the place where the main road and the one to Tatev diverged. There, we said goodbye to the messenger and continued on our way to Tatev.
It was 6 PM, the traffic flow was getting slower, and we had to wait for ten minutes until finding our next car.
We ended up in a car with two young boys. During the entire ride, they were asking us if our parents had allowed us to hitchhike and stay over at an unknown village. After hearing the same answer five times, they agreed that our unusual lifestyle can be fun. Although Tatev was not on the way to their destination, the boys took us there. We stopped in Halidzor to see the marvelous nature and the millennium-old abandoned villages of Vorotan valley.
Maybe Halidzor incorporates some elements of Nairi. In my imagination, like in Halidzor, at the peak of the steep mountains of Nairian villages, you will find churches and small houses. Like in Halidzor, in Nairi small shrubs will grow on rocky outcrops. In villages, people will live in harmony with nature. But the Nairian villages will not be abandoned. Halidzor does not look like a flourishing community. I am afraid to associate Nairi with Halidzor. I have a better image of Nairi.
Maybe Nairi was left in Western Armenia…
My second attempt: Nairi in the lost homeland
So, it started with lunch in Kars, Kurdish populated city. Kars was the second biggest city of Bagratuni Kingdom and the hometown of Charents. After lunch, we went out to see the Kümbet Mosque, I mean the former Holy Apostles Church of Kars. The only special thing about the mosque was that the Muslims had polished Armenian floral crosses carved into the walls. The crosses were converted into three-armed ornaments that mean nothing within Islam. After wandering in the streets of Kars and seeing typical Armenian architectural buildings made of black basalt with narrow windows and Armenian letters on their facades, and walking on the mysterious Vardan’s bridge – the remnants of Nairi – nothing else was left. I am sorry to say this, but, Charents, no one will ever meet Karine in the streets of Kars.
The next destination was Ani.
Ani is a famous tourist destination in Turkey, not only for Armenians but also for foreigners. The first thing you see while approaching the city is the strong fortress and the high towers. Back in the medieval era, the watchers were standing in the towers, and the bells of a thousand churches were ringing simultaneously to call the Anetsiner or Ani’s residents for prayer.
Try to imagine that once the bells were ringing. There is no pathos in it. What is left nowadays? The churches don’t have domes anymore. They are crumbling away. The carved stones covered with lichen are scattered everywhere. One day, the miserable city will vanish away, burying with it part of Nairi, that we were not strong enough to maintain.
Hayk, the guide, approached me and said, “According to the legend, the architect of the fortress buried his wife alive in the fortress.”
“Why he would do that?” I answered.
“They could not build the fortress. The walls were collapsing, the huge pieces were falling onto the Akhurian river. So, the builders decided to bury the graceful woman with long braids in the fortress. Instead of concrete, they used eggs for the base. That is why the fortress is standing for a millennium.”
I did not respond to him. The architect, the beloved nymph, sad smiles, destiny, and sacrifice – the images were flowing in my mind. No, it is just a legend. Nowadays, we cannot build anything similar, can we? That is why we create legends. Let us believe in them.
I used to believe that we left the real Nairi outside the borders of Armenia. But there I was the unrightful owner of Nairian heritage. The official name of Nairi is Turkey, maybe after a few decades, it will become Kurdistan. That has no importance anymore.
Should I tell you what I felt in Aghtamar – the only place that kept the past magnificence of its external walls adorned with biblical scenes? It was like being an unwelcome guest in your parent’s house, where you spent your childhood. You enter, you see your toys and your childhood memories flash in front of your eyes. The house looks the same, no major changes have occurred. But you realize the house does not belong to you anymore and it has new owners. The owner, a Kurdish child, is calling you “haram” or illicit in your own house. What can I say? My Nairian fathers, you built the house for me, but I am not welcomed there anymore. I understand. I should move on, forget about everything, but a thick thread connects me with the house.
What is the thread if not the illusion that we have been cultivating for centuries as the “imagined community?”
Charents, I found the answer. Nairi is the road from Yerevan to Goris, the sexist drivers, Charents, me, you, our powerlessness to protect Ani. Nairi is not a land. Nairi is an illness, the homesickness that you experience because of your inability to stop searching for a better house and accepting the way things are. Nairi is the past, but don’t let it define the future.